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Guilty plea in sex assault of a child case ends 'beyond emotional' trial

By Jimmy Isaac jisaac@news-journal.com
July 21, 2011 at 11 p.m.


After nearly six hours of deliberations over the guilt or innocence of a Longview man accused of sexual assault of a child, jury foreman Mark Ferguson alerted the court bailiff that the jury was split a second time.

Jurors soon learned Thursday that their deliberations over the case of Johnny Mumphrey had reached an unexpected end - the defendant entered a guilty plea to the lesser charge of indecency with a child-sexual contact.

In what turned out to be an 11th-hour decision that thwarted what was headed for a mistrial, Mumphrey, 37, accepted a 10-year deferred adjudication probation. The deal included a provision for a possible life sentence if he is ever convicted of another sexual offense.

Defense attorney Scott Novy and Assistant District Attorney Jenny Huckle worked out details of the agreement while jurors were on their lunch break.

Ferguson believes the plea agreement was his answer to a plea of his own, after the jury failed to compromise on the he-said, he-said, she-said ordeal.

"You look at him, he comes from a great family, beautiful wife, kids. There's nothing that says he is a, for (lack of a) better word, child molester. Not that it says that, but I have to look at what (the victim) said," the jury foreman said. "So, who do you believe, given bits and pieces of both of them? How do you come to an understanding on that? You pray. I prayed a lot, and God answered that prayer."

Ferguson said the case was "beyond emotional." Jurors wrestled with the testimony of three central witnesses: the victim, who said Mumphrey sexually assaulted him from the time he was 8 years old until he reached college; Mumphrey, who admitted having consensual sex with the victim three times after he turned 18; and the victim's mother, who said Mumphrey lacked access to her son through most of the time period of the alleged abuse because he did not live with Mumphrey until he was 12 or 13.

The mother also testified Tuesday that she continues to see Mumphrey on a daily basis but had not spoken to her son in about three weeks.

"Whether it was consensual or not consensual, it really does not matter to me," said the victim's father during a victim's impact statement following Mumphrey's guilty plea. "All I really care about right now is (my son) and his mom trying to work on their relationship."

It was that mother-son relationship that tugged on some jurors, said one 62-year-old juror, mother and grandmother who declined to give her name. Several jurors felt the prosecution had not proven its case, and that it was the victim's word against the defendant's word, which shed greater light on his mother's testimony.

"She knew both of them, and (the victim,) bless his heart, he has had a lot of problems. Mothers know their children," said the juror.

Though they were split Wednesday afternoon, the jury came to a compromise at one point Thursday for not-guilty verdicts on counts I and II - aggravated sexual assault - of the indictment, that same juror said.

But when other jurors refused to switch their votes on two remaining counts, the aforementioned two jurors changed their minds on counts I and II, forcing Ferguson to tell the judge they were split and that a mistrial was likely.

When Ferguson alerted the bailiff at 1:14 p.m., however, Mumphrey was accepting his sentence.

"There were two of us that had strong opinions one way, there were two who had strong opinions the other way, and then the rest were floating trying to make up their minds," Ferguson said, "and we tried to barter out on some of the, the agreements, but it didn't work out. We tried every way to settle this case, but it came to a point where it was just at an impasse."

Along with the traditional fees and community work service that comes with probation, Mumphrey must also attend sex offender counseling. Charles found the conviction was aggravated, meaning that, if Mumphrey's probation is revoked, he would have to serve at least half of his prison sentence before he is parole eligible.

Because Texas allows prosecution of sexual crimes with a statute of limitations of up to 10 years, the charge lists that Mumphrey committed the offense some time around Jan. 1, 2002, though prosecutors alleged the relationship lasted from 1999 until 2010.

Any revoke of Mumphrey's probation could result in a prison sentence of up to 20 years, Charles said.

Mumphrey faced up to life in prison if the jury had convicted him of aggravated sexual assault of a child. Because he has no prior felony convictions, he was eligible for probation.

The victim's father expressed remorse that he was not more involved in his son's life growing up, and that, "I know there are going to be a lot of people saying good, saying bad, and I don't care."

But, "(My son) has suffered a lot, and I do want him and his mom to work on that relationship. I know it's tough and I know there is going to be a lot of healing."

Jurors might need a little healing themselves. One female juror wiped away tears after learning of the guilty plea. Ferguson, holding a bag of leftover donuts he shared with other jurors, welled with tears in his eyes riding the elevator down to the parking lot.

"There was so much that was brought out, but then again, there was so much that wasn't brought out, so many gaps that we had to fill in," Ferguson said, noting that timelines for when the victim lived with Mumphrey were crucial.

"There were some witnesses that we wanted to see there that could have helped fill in some of the spots that were not there, but, I think both parties, prosecution and defense, did a good job with what they had. ... It was a he-said, she-said, and that's what made it so hard."

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